Beijing hospital sealed off
BEIJING, China (CNN) -- A major hospital in Beijing has been placed under quarantine in a bid to curb the spread of the deadly SARS virus in the capital.
The 1,200-bed Beijing University People's Hospital is closing for 10 days, hospital staff told CNN on Thursday, although it was not immediately known how many patients and staff might be affected.
Although China's leadership has signaled the need for transparency, a CNN crew attempting to report on the hospital's quarantine was temporarily detained and had video tapes confiscated.
At the hospital, officials initially quarantined all staff and patients, but later in the day, a hospital worker contacted over the phone said some patients suspected of being infected with SARS were transferred to other hospitals designated to handle SARS patients, while others remained at People's Hospital.
Ambulances could be seen entering and leaving the hospital grounds earlier in the day, although guards posted at the entrance would not answer questions or allow journalists to try to talk with officials.
Beijing has designated six hospitals to handle the SARS outbreak, but the People's Hospital is not one of them.
It was not clear if the hospital was sealed off because SARS cases were discovered there, or if the move came in response to a city-wide emergency order to seal off facilities and quarantine suspected patients as a preventive measure
Elementary and secondary schools were also closed in Beijing for two weeks starting Thursday, a step that could affect about two million students.
Beijing has said it would quarantine people and buildings infected, or suspected of being infected, with the SARS virus, the official Xinhua news agency said -- by force if necessary.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry reported four new fatalities in Beijing, raising the capital's death toll to 39 and the nationwide total to 110.
The country had 125 new cases of infection -- 89 of them in Beijing. That raised the nationwide total to 2,422, with more than 750 in the capital. (Fleeing the capital)
In a dramatic bid to stem the spread of SARS, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday added Beijing, Shanxi province, and the Canadian city of Toronto to its list of places that should be avoided if possible. (Travel warning)
A "high magnitude of disease, a great risk of transmission locally outside the usual health workers" and the "exporting of cases," sparked the warning, said David Heymann, WHO's Communicable Disease Executive Director.
Earlier this month, the WHO advised against non-essential travel to China's southern Guangdong province, where the virus is believed to have originated, and neighboring Hong Kong.
While China has accepted the move, Canadian officials have lashed out, saying the international body overreacted and based its decision on incomplete information. (SARS warning angers Toronto)
That advice will be reviewed in three weeks, twice the maximum incubation period for SARS, a respiratory infection caused by a relative of a common cold virus that has no sure-fire cure.
Health experts believe the SARS virus made the leap from animals to humans in Guangdong -- although how exactly that happened is one of many mysteries yet to be solved.
The virus then spread to Hong Kong and from there has been carried by air travelers to more than 20 countries and territories around the world.
On Thursday, Hong Kong announced four new deaths from SARS, pushing the total death toll to 109, and said there were 30 new cases.
In a bid to alleviate some of that burden on businesses Hong Kong announced a U.S.$1.5 billion relief package. (Relief package)
In other developments:
• The WHO will send a team to Hong Kong to investigate the outbreak of SARS at the Amoy Gardens housing estate, which infected 300 residents and killed several. WHO officials say they are not convinced by a report blaming sewage leaks and say they want assurances no repeats are likely before the travel advisory will be lifted.
• Japan plans to follow Singapore in installing a thermal imaging camera at Tokyo's Narita international airport to identify arriving passengers who have high fevers -- a prime symptom of SARS. Similar equipment will also be installed at Hong Kong's main land border crossing with China.
• Gulf Air says it will suspend flights to Hong Kong for one month as Finland's national carrier Finnair cancels seven flights from Helsinki to Beijing in May. In Britain, officials believe passengers flying from Toronto and Beijing should be checked for SARS before they leave.
• There are now more than 4,300 SARS cases around the world, with around 258 deaths.